Yesterday, after I’d fed and watered the chickens, I grabbed a two-gallon bucket and a ladder to pick some apricots for canning. But my morning didn’t go as planned when I spotted a cloud of bees swarming in the very fruit tree I was preparing to climb into. Nothing like a honeybee swarm to make you switch tasks in a hurry.

 

Honeybees clustered around the queen in a swarm

Honeybees clustered around the queen in a swarm

 

 

There’s a centuries-old saying among beekeepers: A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay . . . a swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon . . . a swarm of bees in July ain’t worth a fly. My beekeeper neighbor says simply, “A swarm in July . . . bye bye.” The rhyme echoed in my brain. Even early July? Should I try to save them? I donned my beekeeper suit and gathered together the items I would need for the rescue.

 

Ironically, in late winter I had hung a swarm catcher in the tree next to the swarm. A swarm catcher makes it easy to hive the bees since they are all inside the bucket-shaped unit with a small hole on one side and a large covered opening on the other. They go inside and you dump the bees into the hive box. I’ve had three swarms this year and not one of them went into the swarm catcher despite me putting attractant (a type of scented oil) in the vial inside the unit. Go figure!

 

Yesterday’s swarm wasn’t as big as the two I captured in May and June. I’m not even sure if I could save this one, but trying was better than losing them. I decided to help the small population along but putting into their hive some frames of comb and honey.

 

A swarm at this time of year (approaching the end of swarming season) will require extra food if the bees are to make it through autumn when they kick out the drones and then winter when their food and nectar sources become scarce.

 

Lavender and sunflowers are beloved by bees

Lavender and sunflowers are beloved by bees

 

 

I draw hope from the fact that August in the Bay Area brings blooms to certain species of eucalyptus and also star thistle. My bees also have access to lots of lavender. I have planted several types of it around my farmette.

 

 

 

Giant sunflowers in bloom

Giant sunflowers in bloom in dinner-plate size

 

 

The sunflowers in my garden are blooming now and will (thanks to consecutive planting) over the next several weeks. And I’ve got two raised beds designated as bee gardens full of blooming flowers and herbs like borage that attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

 

 

It remains to be seen if this July swarm will have any worth at all. I think they’re going to need a lot of help. That means keeping my eyes on them as I take care of my chickens and keep the summer canning going.

 

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If you enjoy reading about the workings of an urban farmette and also appreciate a good, clean mystery, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries–A BEELINE TO MURDER, THE MURDER OF A QUEEN BEE, and A HIVE OF HOMICIDES.  I also write wellness and spirituality books–SACRED TRAVELS (soon to be updated to include color images), RITUALS FOR LIFE, and MY POCKET MEDITATIONS.

 

All my books are available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other traditional and online bookstores everywhere.

 

 

All available online and in bookstores everywhere

Meera’s mystery series

 

More than 150 rituals for sound mind, strong body, and meaningful connections to the people around you

More than 150 rituals for sound mind, strong body, and meaningful connections to the people around you

Anyone can find peace, clarity, and focus...all it takes is a moment

Anyone can find peace, clarity, and focus…all it takes is a moment

 

 

 

 

 

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Swimming in Fruit

Author: Meera, July 12, 2017

Our cherry trees became so heavily laden with fruit this year I couldn’t work fast enough to make the fruit into cookies and pies and jars of jam, conserve, and chutney.

 

 

What fruit the birds and squirrels didn’t devour ended up drying on the trees and looking like ornaments. I’m heartened that at least the wildlife will have something to forage on through fall and winter.

 

 

Once cherry picking season is over, I can hardly face another  piece of cherry pie (no matter how flaky the crust).

Ripe cherries make a lovely filling for a delicious  pie

 

 

 

The apricot trees did a massive drop of their fruit and seemingly all at once. I made more jam than we’ll probably eat, dried some, and gave away more than a few full  buckets of cots to neighbors and friends. I also had to do a messy cleanup of fruit on the ground.

 

In the cycle now are the summer peaches; so, here I go again  . . swimming in fruit.

 

 

Fresh Elberta peaches are firm and juicy, perfect for summer dessert

Ripe Elberta peaches are perfect for eating fresh or preserving

 

Next year, I’m going to get my act together early with  teams of backyard pickers who can help me remove the fruit, divide it, and distribute it. Right now, however, I’ve got peaches to pick and preserve. The summer pears and figs will be next.

 

 

Pick Bartlett pears before they get soft and ripen in a bag to get peak flavor

Pick pears and ripen in a brown bag to two days for peak flavor

 

 

I’m not complaining; I’m enthralled that all this bounty is due to the work of our industrious little honeybees. All this fruit and I haven’t even mentioned finding time to harvest honey. Yet, the bees don’t stop, so neither will I.

 

 

 

________________________________________________________________

 

 

If you enjoy reading about farmette topics like keeping bees and chickens, caring for an orchard, or growing heirloom herbs and vegetables, check out my mystery series from Kensington Publishing (due out September 26, 2017).

 

 

These novels feature a whodunnit for you to solve and are filled with farming facts, trivia, and delicious recipes. The novels and my other books are available in traditional and online bookstores everywhere. Seehttp://tinyurl.com/yb42zd2d

 

Murders at a N. California winery is a catalyst for ex-cop turned farmette owner Abigail Mackenzie

A mystery on a N. California winery

 

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available September 27, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

 

 

My debut novel, the first in a series of three cozy mysteries set on the Henny Penny Farmette

BEELINE TO MURDER, the first in a series of cozy mysteries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Grow a Fruit Tree from a Pit

Author: Meera, April 5, 2017

Nothing beats a breakfast of summer fruit picked fresh from a patio or backyard tree. I’m referring to fruit trees such as apricots, peaches, and nectarines. Cherries and plums are also among my favorites. The fruit from these trees is often referred to as stone fruit because of the hard pits (holding the seed) around which the fruit forms.

 

Ripe apricots can hang on the tree only so long before they drop

By mid-May, ripe apricots hanging on the trees in my backyard don’t last long–they’re eaten fresh, made into jams, and dried

 

 

Apricots in the Bay Area ripen in mid-May and peaches often ripen a bit later during the three months of summer (depending on the cultivar). If you love eating the fruit, don’t toss the pits. Consider that an apricot or peach grafted onto rootstock might cost upwards of $20 during bare-root season but $35 to $50 if sold in a pot. Growing from seed costs nothing.

 

Planting the seed extracted from the pit of your favorite apricot or peach variety can generate a tree with a very good chance of carrying the parent trees’ traits and producing fruit within three to five years. In fact, I’ve found that pits of my apricot, cherry, wild plum, peach, and nectarines that are left on the ground or discarded by the squirrels who’ve eaten the fruit will often sprout on their own.

 

Perfectly ripe peachs can be made into luscious jam

Perfectly ripened peaches make luscious ice cream, jams, pies, cobblers, and tarts

 

 

 

 

Use this ten-step method to grow a peach or apricot tree from seed.

 

1. Choose a pit from a locally grown ripe fruit that tastes juicy and delicious.

 

2. Dry the seed on a paper towel in your kitchen window for several days.

 

3.  Carefully crack open the hard shell of the pit to reveal the seed inside (it will resemble an almond).

 

4. Put the seed (or several seeds) in a sealed container in your refrigerator and let it chill for up to three months. The cool temperature exposure helps the seed get ready to sprout.

 

5. Time your removal of the seed from the refrigerator to a month before the last frost date in your area.

 

6. Cover the seed in water overnight and in the morning plant it a clear glass jar of potting soil (no lid on the jar).

 

7. Return the jar to the refrigerator and keep the seed moist until it has sprouted (about one month).

 

8. When the outside weather conditions are right (no more frost and the soil begins to warm), plant the seedling in your garden in fertile, well-drained soil.

 

9.  Dig a basin around the planting hole for watering.

 

10. Mulch to keep down weeds and ensure the roots stay cool. In three years, watch for blossoms in the spring with fruit to follow.

 

 

Cherry pits are much smaller than other stone fruit

Cherry pits are much smaller than other stone fruit; pits of sour cherries (and also wild plums) may self-seed but sweet cherries less so. Cherries must have a period of cold to germinate

 

 

 

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If you enjoy farmette topics like gardening heirloom vegetables, herbs, and fruits as well as keeping chickens and bees, check out my Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries from Kensington Publishing–A Beeline to Murder, The Murder of a Queen Bee, and A Hive of Homicides.

 

Coming Sept. 2017

Available from online and traditional bookstores everywhere (release date is Oct. 2017)

 

 

You’ll find in the Henny Penny Farmette series

 

  • Delicious recipes

  • Farm quips and quotes

  • Tips for gardening and keeping chickens and bees

  • An exciting whodunnit mystery

 

 

 

 

Also, check out MY POCKET MEDITATIONS, my newest forthcoming nonfiction title from Adams Media/Simon & Schuster, at http://tinyurl.com/l6lzorq

 

My Pocket Meditations: Anytime Exercises for Peace, Clarity, and Focus by [Lester, Meera]

 

 

 

 

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With the official start of summer a few days away, I find myself leaving my computer and the scene I’m writing on my third novel to take a break in the garden. Alive with honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, the garden is perfect place for a respite and a cup of tea.

 

 

 

Honeybees love lavender

Honeybees love to forage on all types of blooming lavender.

 

 

Quite like a potager garden that includes flowers, herbs, trees, vegetables, berries, and grapes, mine also includes a patch of corn.

 

 

Climbing roses can be seen growing behind the corn

Climbing Sally Holmes roses with trusses of ivory blooms grow behind the 4-foot-tall corn.

 

 

Embroidered around the edges of the garden, there are climbing roses, fruit trees, and lots of lavender. Along the rows of lavender, there are peach trees with fruit the size of softballs and five pomegranate trees, laden with blooms and new fruit.

 

 

 

Ripe pomegranates have a leathery outer skin, membranes thicker than oranges, but sweet, juicy seeds inside

The pomegranates aren’t quite this large yet, but the trees have so much fruit, they’ll have to be thinned.

 

 

 

As I meander, I discover the trees of red and yellow plums have begun to drop their ripe fruit. I’ve got to make those plums into jelly or jam and ditto on the apricots.

 

 

Ripe apricots can hang on the tree only so long before they drop

Ripe apricots hang on the tree only so long before they drop.

 

 

 

But that work will have to wait until my late afternoon tea break. My novel won’t write itself. Still, the time I spend in the garden revitalizes my spirit and refreshes my brain cells, enabling me to return to the computer and the scene I’m writing with renewed vision and vigor.

 

 

*          *          *  

 

If you enjoy reading about gardening, keeping bees, raising chickens, and creating delicious recipes, check out my novels from Kensington Publishing.

 

 

First book in Meera Lester's Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

First book in Meera Lester’s Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries

 

 

 

The Henny Penny Farmette series of cozy mysteries are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books, Walmart, and other online and traditional bookstores everywhere. Available in hardcover, Kindle, and mass market paperback formats.

 

 

 

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

Novel #2 in the Henny Penny Farmette series, available Oct. 1, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Drying Fruits Naturally

Author: Meera, June 16, 2015

I love dried apricots, but don’t tolerate well the ones treated with sulfur dioxide(used to prevent oxidation and loss of color). With so many apricots on our property coming ripe at once, I have decided in addition to making jam this year to also dry some of the fruit.

 

 

Apricots are plentiful this time of year and easy to dry for snacking when the season is over

Apricots, so plentiful this time of year, are easy to dry and make great snacks when the season is over

 

 

Apricots dried but not treated with sulfur dioxide will turn a natural brown color. Some stores sell them this way. They are usually priced the same or similar to the treated apricots with the bright orange hue.

 

Besides apricots, other fruits that dry well include apples, bananas, cherries, grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, plum, rhubarb, and even strawberries. You can use a drying machine

 

Quick Tips for Drying Fruit

 

1. Choose to dry only the freshest picked fruits, without bruises, scale, sun scald, or other blight.

 

2. Spray nonstick vegetable spray on drying pans or trays to make it easier to remove the dried fruit

 

3. Lay out the fruit to dry in a single layer on trays. Remember to rotate the trays occasionally and turn the pieces from time to time.

 

4. Destroy any insects (miniscule or otherwise) by freezing or baking the fruit. Simply take the tray and stick it into an oven heated to 175 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes. Alternatively, pack the dried fruit in freezer bags and freeze for at least 2 days.

 

5. Freezing dried fruit in resealable freezer bags will preserve its shelf life.

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The Start of Something Wonderful . . . Spring!

Author: Meera, March 16, 2015

I jumped at the chance to visit my favorite nursery this past weekend after my husband suggested a drive to Livermore, California. Alden Lane Nursery occupies a beautiful setting amid ancient oaks and there is even a honeybee hive on the premises. Wisteria blooms in perfusion there this time of year.

 

 

Mid-march wisteria in bloom on the farmette and also at the nursery

Mid-march wisteria in bloom on the farmette and also at the nursery

 

 

 

We came away with some pepper plants, two smoke trees, and four cherry trees, including Bing and Black Tartarian, its pollinator.

 

 

There are now four cherry trees in pots awaiting the digging of large basins and new soil

There are now four cherry trees in pots awaiting the digging of large basins and new soil

 

 

 

We are going to plant the cherry trees at the front of our property and the smoke trees will go in that area as well. We’ve done very little landscaping on the front of our land, preferring to get the trees and gardens in at the back near our hives and chicken run.

 

 

 

The beds that run the length of the fencing at the front of the farmette feature statuary, citrus, and bedding plants

The beds that run the length of the fencing at the front of the farmette feature statuary, citrus, and bedding plants

 

 

Everywhere you look on the farmette, there are projects to be done. We chip away at them when we can. My husband works days and I write my novels, so the work will undoubtedly be never-ending. But that’s okay. We aren’t in a hurry and it’s easier to just live by the cycles and seasons of nature.

 

 

When I think of how the peaches and apricots are forming and the bees are almost ready to swarm, I know spring is here. And it’s my favorite season, so I’ll go outside, ignore the projects, have a cup of tea, and enjoy the start of something wonderful!

 

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Nuts and Honey Add Lovely Flavor to Dried Fruit Tart

Author: Meera, December 10, 2012

Flaky tarts piled high with fresh organic berries has always been for me a delightful way to end a summer meal. With the onset of winter now only eleven days away, I flip through my recipe files for something similar to those lovely summer tarts and hit upon an easy-to-make tart filled with dried fruits, nuts, and honey.

 

You can substitute or add other dried fruit (cranberries, figs, dates, and raisins, for example) to this tart, but I’ve found the best flavor comes from the dried peaches and apricots. They combine beautifully to create a richly flavorful dessert. A dollop of whipping cream on top adds a layer of decadence to this rich autumn tart.

 

Pastry Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter (cut into pats or small pieces)

pinch of salt

1 large egg yolk

 

 

Directions for Pastry:

Combine pastry ingredients in a food processor with metal blade. Process until the mixture becomes a fine crumble. Add egg yolk and process into dough. Pastry should hold together, forming a ball.

 

Filling  Ingredients:

3/4 cup white dessert wine

3/4 cup honey

18-20 dried apricots and/or peaches

1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind

1 cup blanched whole almonds

3 eggs

1 teaspoon good quality vanilla

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup walnuts

 

Topping:

1 cup cream

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon of sugar

 

Directions for Toasted Almonds:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.

Toast blanched almonds on a baking sheet for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside. Keep oven on for baking the tart.

 

Directions for Tart Filling:

In a stainless steel pan, add the dried fruit with the orange rind.

Pour over the fruit and rind half the wine and 2 Tablespoons of honey.

Cook over low heat for 20 to 25 minutes until the fruit absorbs the liquid and plumps up, becoming soft  and plaint.

In a bowl, combine eggs, honey, remaining wine, vanilla, and butter.

Beat in the walnuts and almonds.

In a springform pan, press the dough as thinly as possible over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Drop the fruit onto the dough, spreading around over the bottom of the pastry. Pour in the nuts and egg mixture. Use a spatula to smooth the filling.

 

Bake the tart for 45 minutes on the middle rack of the oven.

Allow the tart to cool in its pan before removing and placing on a serving plate.

 

Whip cream until peaks form and fold in cinnamon and sugar. Put a dollop on top of each individual serving.

 

Serves 8.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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